Congress Needs Second Opinion on Terror

Last week, the U.S. State Department released two reports that address, among other things, the Middle East front in the war on terrorism.

The reports — assessments of "Patterns of Global Terrorism 2001" and of the Palestine Liberation Organization/Palestinian Authority’s compliance with commitments made to Israel and the United States — have earned a dubious distinction: The Congress to whom State has submitted these reports would be better advised to use these studies as door-stoppers than as guides to U.S. policy.

The problem is that both the utility and the integrity of both documents have been seriously compromised by a process known in Washington as "politicization." Specifically, the State Department has pulled its punches with respect to the reports’ findings and conclusions concerning Mideast terror especially that perpetrated by Yasser Arafat’s organizations, subordinates and other associates.

For one thing, the State Department simply chooses to ignore scores of incidents in which Palestinian terrorists attacked Israelis on the grounds that the attacks do not constitute "significant international terrorist incidents." Yet, if one applies the standard supposedly employed by the "Patterns of Global Terror 2001" study namely, attacks involving "major property damage, abduction or kidnapping, loss of life or serious injury, or the foiled attempt at any of these" there are not just the 11 listed but more than 80 other ones that were not.

Arafat’s connection to the terrorists, and the terrorists’ ties to so-called "moderate" Arab regimes like those of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are similarly downplayed. For example, the "Compliance" report does acknowledge that "elements with varying degrees of affiliation" with Arafat's groups committed "acts of violence," yet it contends that "There is no conclusive evidence that these elements acted with the prior approval and encouragement of the PLO and PA leaderships." Actually, Israel has provided reams of documentation making just such a connection.

The State Department also fails to acknowledge documentary evidence tying the Saudi government to funding for the families of Palestinian "martyrs" or the Egyptian government’s complicity in tunneling into the Gaza strip for the purpose of smuggling arms to Palestinian terrorists.

The "Patterns" study even misrepresented the nature of the Karine-A incident the ship bearing Iranian arms that was headed for the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip until Israeli forces intercepted and boarded it. Even though President Bush is known to be furious at Arafat’s misrepresentations about his prior knowledge of, and involvement in, this smuggling operation, the State Department could bring itself only to say that the arms were "apparently bound for militants in the West Bank and Gaza Strip."

While there are problems elsewhere with the "Patterns" study notably, its charitable treatment of the post-Sept. 11 conduct of nations like Libya, Yemen and Sudan long associated with terrorism the most consistently outrageous politicization appears in these two reports’ kid-glove handling of Arafat and Company.

Perhaps, this can be attributed in part to the reflexive Arabist tendencies of many career Foreign Service Officers. (The magnitude of this problem is examined with care in Robert Kaplan’s excellent book entitled "The Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite.") At a minimum, the State Department is anxious to negotiate with Arafat, not have him identified as the terrorist he is and rendered ineligible for further U.S. political legitimization and financial life-support.

Whatever the motivation, it is clearly unacceptable for the State Department to try to skew congressional and public perceptions of reality as it relates to Mideast terrorism. Rather than accept such an unsatisfactory product, the Congress should take a page from its own play-book.

In 1995, the CIA produced a national intelligence estimate concerning the ballistic missile threat to the U.S. This NIE was transparently written and its dissemination timed to support the Clinton administration’s contention that the U.S. had no present need for anti-missile defenses. Legislators found the assumptions used by the CIA to be seriously flawed and, therefore, judged the NIE so defective as to require a "second opinion."

A blue-ribbon, bipartisan commission chaired by now-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld determined that the threat of missile attack was far more imminent than Congress had been led to believe a finding that has shaped American policy ever since.

Today, as the United States government wrestles with how to deal with the threat of terrorism in and from the Middle East, Congress and the American people need to know the facts. Toward that end, the nation requires an independent, apolitical review of those facts and their portrayal in the reports the State Department has recently served up. Unless such a second opinion is secured, we have little hope of understanding the true nature of the terrorist challenge let alone dealing with it effectively.

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. held senior positions in the Reagan Defense Department. He is currently president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C.